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RIP Leonard Nimoy March 4, 2015

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Last Friday, actor Leonard Nimoy died. The New York Times reported, “the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut ‘Star Trek,’ died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.”

As Anna drove around town that morning, KUSC played the Star Trek theme in Nimoy’s honor, for he was a long-time supporter of that classical music station and a musician himself. Long before Peter Jackson brought J. R. R. Tolkein’s hobbits to the screen, Nimoy performed “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.” though that didn’t do justice to his talent. He was also a photographer, and The Independent has just pulled together and shared some of his striking work.

Four years ago this month, Lofty Ambitions wrote a happy-birthday post for Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner. Read that tribute HERE.

Reportedly, Nimoy’s last tweet was “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”

One of our favorite and nerdiest NASA astronauts Mike Fincke and ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano spoke of Nimoy’s influence, as the character Spock, on space exploration, science, and their generation. And astronauts in space exchanged the Vulcan salute last week.

Rolling Stone gathered numerous tributes. President Obama wrote, “Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek‘s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.”

Zachary Quinto, the new Spock, wrote, “My heart is broken. I love you profoundly my dear friend.”


Star Trek cast and crew with Enterprise Space Shuttle

George Takei remembered Nimoy at MSNBC. Takei called Nimoy “extraordinary” and explains why Nimoy deserves that adjective.

William Shatner kept his commitment to a Red Cross fundraiser in Florida instead of attending the funeral, according to CNN, but had good things to say about Nimoy.

In TIME, Martin Landau remembered Nimoy, writing, “Leonard Nimoy was a mensch! Mensch is a word which in Yiddish means ‘a particularly good person’ with the qualities one would hope for in a dear friend or trusted colleague.”

Canadians are Spocking their $5 bills. The Bank of Canada is not pleased. Fans will be fans, always.

As academics ourselves, we appreciate a good commencement speech. In his at Boston University in 2012, at the age of 81, Nimoy said, “I have three words for you. Persistence, persistence…persistence.” We write about that here at Lofty Ambitions, and Anna’s chapter in a forthcoming pedagogy book talks about the importance of perseverance. In that speech, Nimoy quotes President Kennedy, “We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda. It is truth.” That’s sometimes difficult to remember these days, but it’s one of the principles that drives our own writing here and elsewhere. So we end with Nimoy’s wisdom and a video clip that may be familiar and newly meaningful:

You are the curators of your own lives.

You create your own life and work.

#Orion at JPL/Armstrong (Part 3) December 10, 2014

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To start with Part 1, click HERE.

Orion Flight Test Profile (NASA)

Orion Flight Test Profile (NASA)

The Orion/EFT-1 mission went off without a hitch last Friday. The four-and-a-half hour mission reached a height, or apogee, of 3,600 miles. That’s is as far as a human-rated spacecraft has travelled from the earth in forty-two years.

As a part of the build-up to the Orion/EFT-1 mission, NASA held NASA Social events at multiple sites. Doug was lucky enough to be selected for the event held at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and cosponsored with Armstrong Flight Research Center. In last week’s post, we described the enthusiastic presentation by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Director of Kennedy Space Center Bob Cabana.

The morning session, a streaming broadcast from Kennedy Space Center, continued with panels that addressed a range of Orion-related topics. Mars was much on people’s minds, and many echoed the point that Orion is a stepping-stone to the missions that will send humans to Mars. Dr. Michael Gazarik, who serves as Associate Administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, neatly summed up the Mars aspect of the morning’s presentations when he said that we have to learn: “How to get there. How to land there. How to live there.”

Charlie Bolden & Bob Cabana Livestream

Charlie Bolden & Bob Cabana Livestream

Another interesting moment in the morning’s session occurred when Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of Commercial Spaceflight Development, discussed the requirements process for the Commercial Crew Program. McAlister used the space shuttle program as a comparison point. For the shuttle, NASA developed 12,000 requirements. For the Commerical Crew Program, NASA issued 300 requirements. As McAlister put it, with significant but significantly fewer constraints, corporations have encouragement to innovate.

After lunch, the Armstrong/JPL NASA Social continued with more talks and a tour of several locations at JPL.

One of the significant new systems which was developed for Orion is its Launch Abort System. Brent Cobleigh of NASA Armstrong described the testing of the Launch Abort System that took place during the Pad Abort-1 flight test program. That PAD-1 program took place at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The 500,000 pounds of thrust generated by the solid rocket motors of the Launch Abort System are powerful enough to accelerate the Orion spacecraft to one hundred miles an hour in 0.42 seconds. The earliest setup for this system produced 16Gs of acceleration, and the production version of the system will accelerate at 12Gs in order to reduce the physiological stresses on the occupants. Cobleigh also pointed out that the United States has never used an abort system during a launch. In fact, only once in the history of human space exploration has a launch abort system been used, in September 1983 for the Russian Soyuz T-10a mission.

Doug at JPL (NASA photo)

Doug at JPL (NASA photo)

The next presentation was by pilot Mark Pestana about the Ikhana aircraft from NASA Armstrong. Ikhana is an unmanned aircraft system that NASA uses primarily for Earth observation and science missions. The name Ikhana comes from the Choctaw language and means intelligence, learning, awareness, and consciousness. NASA received permission from the Choctaw nation to give the aircraft this name. Ikhana was responsible for the stunning video images of Orion’s return through Earth’s atmosphere (see below). During the talk, it was revealed that the Ikhana’s flight would be available on Flightaware. You can still find the track of Ikhana’s flight in support of the Orion return HERE.

Despite the resounding success of the Orion/EFT-1 mission, it will be nearly four years before the next Orion test mission—Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1)—takes place on September 30, 2018. NASA is currently operating its human space exploration program—actually, all of its programs—under significant budget constraints. The first mission to include a human crew won’t occur until 2021, at the earliest. That flight will take place fully 60 years after Russian Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space. It will have been more than 50 years since the crew of Apollo 11 landed on this moon, and, this time, we won’t even be landing there.

All signs are that humanity is going to Mars. But it’s going to take us a while to get there.

To read Part 4, click HERE.

On Traveling: NASM & Other Serendipity August 13, 2014

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Space Exploration.
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Last week, we were back at the University of Maryland. We lived in College Park, Maryland, in the early 1990s while Anna was earning her MFA and working at the Entomological Society of America and Doug was working for NASA at the Center for AeroSpace Information as an abstractor and indexer. The University of Maryland and the surrounding communities have changed in twenty years, with lots more housing and restaurants (we went to Ledo first).

This time around, Doug was participating in a workshop hosted by HILT, or Humanities Intensive Learning and Teaching. As part of that program, we had the opportunity to choose among several Wednesday field trips. Of course, you know which one we chose: National Air and Space Museum!

NASM Curator Margaret W

NASM Curator Margaret Weitekamp at “My Shuttle Memories” Slideshow

The special event focused on a behind-the-scenes look at the new NASM crowdsourcing project called “My Space Shuttle Memories.” Margaret Weitekamp, the Curator of the Social and Cultural Dimensions of Spaceflight Collection at NASM, wanted something engaging for the new “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibit, and she wanted to reflect the ways in which real people interacted with and reacted to the space shuttle program. She worked with Sarah Banks, NASM’s Social Media Manager, to develop a photo crowdsourcing project that culminates in a slideshow display now in the exhibit.

Model of International Space Station in Current Configuration

Model of International Space Station in Current Configuration

We were disappointed that we hadn’t known about the initial call for photographs, but the museum plans to update the slideshow periodically. So, of course, we uploaded five of our own space shuttle photographs to the “My Space Shuttle Memories” Flickr group as soon as we returned home. We encourage others to do the same!

Based on our discussions with Weitekamp and Banks, we encourage you to follow the guidelines so that your photograph is seriously considered. Even if your photograph doesn’t become part of the slideshow in the museum, it’ll remain part of the collection of “My Shuttle Memories” at Flickr. Here are some things to consider before you upload any Shuttle photos to the Flickr page:

  • The photograph MUST include people. Photographs of the space shuttle or of the plume won’t be considered for inclusion in the museum slideshow.
  • The photograph must NOT anyone under the age of 18, unless you can provide permission from a parent or legal guardian for all children in the photograph.
  • Photographs should focus on space shuttle launches and landings. Generally, very insider photographs won’t be seriously considered for inclusion in the slideshow.
  • Photographs of space shuttle launches in the 1980s and 1990s are especially welcome. Many of us went to the last three launches with digital cameras, so those photographs dominate submissions. If you take the time to scan and submit an older photograph, you may have better odds.
  • You MUST hold copyright on the photograph and be willing to give NASM permission to use the photograph. If they’re interested in including your photograph in the slideshow, they’ll contact you about that process. (In fact, after you submit photos, you should check the email account associated with your Flickr registration at least every ten days.) Copyright holders of selected photographs may also contribute those images to the NASM Archives, but that’s a different, follow-on process.

NASM is open until 7:30pm over the summer, so we also had plenty of time to traipse about one of our favorites spaces in the world. In addition to the new “Moving Beyond Earth” exhibit, we took a look at “Sprit and Opportunity: 10 Years Roving Across Mars,” which runs through September 15, and the new-to-us “Time and Navigation.” We couldn’t leave without breezing through “Apollo to the Moon.”

Doug & Anna on Mars!

Doug & Anna on Mars!

Sated with our visit to NASM, we headed home from our cross-country jaunt on Saturday. We returned our rental car, boarded the shuttle bus back to the airport, and heard the doors whoosh shut on our journey. But wait! As we peered out the bus’s window, we saw a spry, white-haired man exit the rental car facility and head behind to the next bus.

We had missed meeting Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon! Or did we?

We never use curbside check-in, but there was no one in line, and that vantage allowed us to watch for the next bus from the rental car facility. We didn’t see Gene Cernan get off the bus, but Doug headed one way and I headed the other to check the adjacent terminal stops.

There he was!

Apollo 17 Astronaut Gene Cernan, waiting in line to check in for his flight just like everybody else. 

We approached. Doug said, “Mr. Cernan.” His daughter nudged him in our direction. “Could we take your photograph?” Doug asked. We thought he might be bothered, feel interrupted

Anna & Gene Cernan!

Anna & Gene Cernan!

Instead, he came right over to the rope, grabbed Anna’s hand, and said, “How about two?” Cernan and Anna chatted briefly about their flying plans that day, and Anna thanked him for going to the Moon for all of us. When he showed up in the security area, Anna wished him a good flight just before he entered the body scanner.

We’ve written about serendipity before here at Lofty Ambitions. Meeting Gene Cernan was indeed a happy accident. But it happened because we recognized someone who matters to us and were willing to take a little risk to seek out his company for a couple of minutes. As we continue to focus on The Cold War, cancer, and space exploration over this next year, we know we have to look for the unanticipated. Gene Cernan reminded us of that need both for immersion in our interests and for openness to what we can’t possibly predict will happen.

Interview: Eileen Collins July 30, 2014

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Anna with Eileen Collins, first-ever female commander of an American spacecraft

Anna with Eileen Collins, first-ever female commander of an American spacecraft

Fifteen years ago, on July 23, 1999, Eileen Collins became the first female commander of a U.S. spacecraft. STS-93 launched the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Collins and her crew returned to Earth on July 29. This week, we celebrate that accomplishment.

Also this week, Lofty Ambitions celebrates Collins’s command on STS-114, which launched on July 26, 2005, and landed that August 9. Collins was circling the globe on this date just nine years ago. That was a Return-To-Flight mission in which she flew the first-ever 360-degree maneuver so that the orbiter could be photographed by the crew aboard the International Space Station and be checked for possible damage to the tiles on its underside.

Collins had already become the first female Shuttle pilot aboard STS-63 in 1995 and repeated her pilot role on STS-84 two years later. That’s right—a four-time Shuttle astronaut.

 We talked to Eileen Collins in 2012, and we’re excited to share the video of our conversation for the first time this week. Collins is one of the most gracious, vibrant, and diplomatic astronauts we’ve met.

Lofty Ambitions Anniversary: 4 Years! July 2, 2014

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It was an unusually busy spring for the Lofty Duo. Doug was the conference coordinator for Intertwingled: The Work and Influence of Ted Nelson, and Anna took on a new book project while still trying to work on her book about the history of the space program. Our transition into a summer schedule was abrupt, and it’s caused us some reflection.

Two Shuttles, Two Bloggers

Two Shuttles, Two Bloggers

One of the things that we just realized is that this week marks the fourth anniversary of Lofty Ambitions. We actually wrote a prologue post on June 30, 2010, to map out our basic plan for Lofty Ambitions. In that post, we announced that the blog would begin formally on July 1, 2010—so it did.

If you look at the blog’s tag cloud on the right-hand side of the page, you’ll see that Beer appears as one of the most common tags in our blog, so we’ll be tipping a pint tonight with Anna’s sister, Brigid, and their Aunt Maggie in celebration of four years of consistent publication.


One of the primary reasons that we started this blog, besides our mutual love of aviation and writing, was to document the end of the Space Shuttle program. Many years ago, after we’d done some academic writing about aviation museums, we talked about collaborating on a book that would highlight three aircraft from different eras of the twentieth century. We’d missed out on any opportunities to be connected to the first two aircraft by virtue of our mid-1960’s births. But the shuttle was the last of those three aircraft. Yes, we know that the shuttle is also a spacecraft, but it looks the way it does and landed the way it did because, underneath it all, it’s an airplane. In 2010, we wanted to get close to it before it was gone.


Endeavour on its way to California with Two Bloggers

We got closer that we ever could have hoped. This blog and our university magazine helped us garner press credentials to witness two of the last three shuttle launches, and we documented those experience through this blog, magazine articles, and newspaper stories. By putting our experiences out in front of the world, we also inadvertently became people that you could contact when you had a question about NASA or the shuttle. We both agree that the things of which we are most proud are the questions that we’ve answered and the connections we’ve made because people have read the blog and wanted to know more. Along the way, we’ve answered questions about the height of astronauts, helped two fifth-graders win first place in a statewide history contest, and been told by the astronauts who were there that we got the facts right.


In the last four years, we’ve managed to post every single Wednesday. We’ve come right up against the deadline on a few occasions, but we’ve managed to get something out every week. Our blog stats reveal that this is our 421st post. If you’re quick with the arithmetic, you’ll realize that’s significantly more posts than four years worth of Wednesdays. Often when we go to a big event—like a rocket launch—we publish every day that we’re on site.


Two Bloggers at the Launch Pad with Atlantis

We also use a rough average of a thousand words per post. A little more arithmetic will tell you that that comes to 421,000 words (more or less).

One of the missions of the blog is to discuss writing-as-a-couple. We are happy to report that being responsible together for producing a blog post every Wednesday has been great for us in terms of our writing and our coupledom. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ability to collaborate and engage with each other as writers.


In the past year, we’ve recorded a number of our activities as multi-post series. LaunchPad is a wonderful opportunity for writers to learn more science, specifically astronomy & cosmology. A Writing Residency details the two separate stays we had at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony; we plan to get back there again in this next year. Palomar Observatory & George Hale is an extensive look at the life of George Ellery Hale and one of the observatories that he built; we’re trying to figure out how to visit another of his visions soon. And JPL & EarthNow is one of the wonderful NASASocial programs that we were selected to attend. We’ve also written about losing friends to cancer, and Anna’s new book project has something to do with that.


AWP 2012: Lofty Ambitions bundled up in Chicago

Last year’s posts, both those that are a part of a series and those that stand alone, have served to remind us of how many things are going on in the areas of interest to Lofty Ambitions: Aviation and Space Exploration, Science, and Writing as a Couple.

The vagaries of our schedules and rocket launches are such that we haven’t been to a launch in this past year, though we’ve happily watched blog posts, Facebook status updates, and tweets as a number of the friends that we’ve made via this blog have been to launches. We meant to go to the SpaceX-3 Commercial Resupply Services flight launch, but it was delayed in March (when we could go) and wound up be launched in April (when we couldn’t go). We’ve both agreed that we need to go see a launch in the near future, and we’re keeping our eyes on the two SpaceX Falcon Heavy launches planned for 2015.

As always, we continue to be grateful that we’re able to write about the things that we love to do, about which we want to learn more. At the same time, we’re always on the lookout for new challenges, new opportunities. It’s been a wonderful four years, and we are already planning for the next four. Keep reading!

Celebrating Skylab May 14, 2014

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On this date in 1973, when we were in elementary school, NASA launched a space station called Skylab from Kennedy Space Center.

If that sentence sounds familiar, it’s because one very much like it also began our post on this date two years ago. A lofty ambition from NASA, Skylab looms large in our memory of childhood, and we continue to celebrate it.

Skylab (Artist's Concept, NASA)

Skylab (Artist’s Concept, NASA)

Sure, Skylab needed some in-space repair to get it running properly after its meteoroid shield had ripped away and left the workshop in the sizzling heat of the sun’s rays. Sure, this space station came zipping and burning back to Earth, with a few chunks landing here and there. Sure, it’s an example of poor timing, with the space shuttle not yet flying and nothing else able to nudge Skylab back up to its orbit. NASA has a detailed history of Skylab posted online that doesn’t ignore the glitches.

Skylab was America’s first space station, our nation’s first foray into living in space for extended periods of time, so we celebrate today both the general concept that now includes the International Space Station and the specific accomplishments of the three Skylab missions.

Perhaps the greatest contribution that Skylab made to science was via the Apollo Telescope Mount, or ATM. This solar observatory maintained and operated by the Skylab crew reshaped the study of the Sun. The ATM pioneered the field of heliophysics by studying “coronal mass ejections and coronal holes as the source of solar wind.” Along with space probes Explorer I and Mariner 2, Skylab’s ATM observations “led to the understanding that stars interact with the universe not just through gravity and photon radiation but also through electromagnetic fields and particles.”

Pete Conrad undergoes dental exam by Joseph Kerwin aboard Skylab (NASA)

Pete Conrad undergoes dental exam by Joseph Kerwin aboard Skylab (NASA)

We’re thinking today about its more human accomplishments rather than, say, the contribution to understanding solar flares. Skylab, for instance, forced NASA to grapple with its policy of open communication. The world heard the conversations between Houston and astronauts in space, which was especially good public relations during Apollo and Skylab because it distinguished our space program from that of the Soviet Union, who, as the PR had it, kept secrets even from its own people. That said, NASA protects the doctor-patient privacy we have in the United States even when astronauts travel beyond the atmosphere. On Skylab, NASA allowed the astronauts to talk privately with the flight surgeon, and that information was merely summarized for the news media.

But when Pete Conrad, who didn’t like the open communications policy anyway, had trouble with the exercise bicycle, he requested the sort of private conversation about operations that was supposed to occur only in an emergency. After that non-emergency conversation that covered several topics and after the explaining NASA had to do to the press, private conversations were avoided. Conrad later claimed that he found out about a planned spacewalk in a phone call with his wife instead of from the folks running the mission on the ground because NASA didn’t want to reveal evolving mission plans to the press.

Owen Garriott EVA (NASA)

Owen Garriott EVA (NASA)

This working through of how to talk about what over open channels and over the long haul couldn’t be solved with technology alone. Real people had to work through the complexity of human communication. People had to learn from human behaviors, tendencies, and missteps. Though this space station involved all sorts of technological accomplishments, some of Skylab’s most interesting and important accomplishments involved human interactions, human thinking, and the human body.

How much should a person exercise in space? How should the crew’s fluctuating heart rates be factored into mission plans for tomorrow or next week? Would decreased ability to taste and smell food mean stocking more German potato salad on future missions?

"Homemade" Christmas Tree aboard Skylab-4

“Homemade” Christmas Tree aboard Skylab-4

If half the astronauts will suffer space sickness, but half won’t, what’s the best prevention and treatment? The first Skylab crew of three fared fine, but all three astronauts on the second crew were queasy within hours. Jack Lousma, Alan Bean, and Owen Garriott—all of whom are still alive and, we hope, celebrating today—couldn’t eat much and became slower in their work. Between space sickness and troubleshooting unexpected glitches, they fell a day behind schedule quickly. This turn of events was especially perplexing because Bean had flown on Apollo without suffering space sickness, and Lousma performed well in the tests designed to induce motion sickness during training. The physician recommended rapid head movement instead of bunk rest, which wasn’t what the crew wanted to hear. By the third day, each astronaut felt better, whether or not he’d done the head movements. Skylab made solving the space sickness problem a priority for NASA. If half or an entire space shuttle crew were to be sick for three days, the mission would be a mess.

Skylab Food Tray (NASA)

Skylab Food Tray (NASA)

Roughly halfway through the third manned Skylab mission, Gerald Carr sent an extra message—via the delayed but public-after-transcription B channel—indicating that the crew and the ground needed to talk about the pace and goals of the mission. The second crew had set the bar high, despite their initial queasiness. This third, all-rookie spaceflight crew felt pushed to get tasks checked off quickly rather than completed well, and they wanted more exercise and down time. On this twelve-week mission—what would be a world record for space endurance—the astronauts wanted a bit of time before sleep to clear their heads, whereas the ground had been scheduling every minute and wanted to maintain the crew at the ready for any scientific observation opportunity that might arise. Because all but emergency operations communications were public, neither the crew nor the ground had wanted to point out even each other’s minor shortcomings. They hadn’t made sure they were on the same page, day to day. The almost-hour-long, candid discussion that followed Carr’s request set a new precedent between crew and ground for missions to come.

The greatest accomplishment of Skylab is that it suggested more questions than it answered, questions about science, technology, and human beings. Skylab wasn’t designed as an end in itself but as part of the future into which we were growing up in the 1970s. Maybe we’re a bit sentimental about Skylab because, when we were kids, Skylab made living in space seem not only cool—maybe cooler than it actually was with space sickness and to-do lists—but also possible.

The Lunar Eclipse, Apollo 11, & Apollo 16 April 16, 2014

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On Monday evening, we stayed up a little late to catch the lunar eclipse. We popped outside, watched for a few minutes as it began. We went outside again twenty or thirty minutes later to watch it again. And then again, and so on.

Moon from Earth

Anna looked up the word umbra, which comes from a Latin word that means shadow or to be in the shade. Initially, to take umbrage was merely to go sit under a tree, in the shade and out of the sunshine, just as the Moon sits in the shade of the Earth during an eclipse. As we watched the shadow slip well past the midpoint of the Moon, Doug said, “No wonder people were afraid when they saw an eclipse.”

We have one Moon in our heads, the one we look up at. But we thought about the men who walked on the Moon’s surface, those who, as astronaut Michael Collins said in In the Shadow of the MoonI

have two moons in my head. […E] every once in a while, I do think of a second moon, you know, the one that I recall from up close. And yeah, it is kind of hard to believe that I was actually up there.

We thought of the men who walked on the Moon and those who circled it alone, especially of Collins, who remained in the Apollo 11 capsule while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked across the orb’s surface and who has spoken and written about his adventures incredibly eloquently. Of his experience, Collins wrote:

Far from feeling lonely or abandoned, I feel very much a part of what is taking place on the lunar surface. I know that I would be a liar or a fool if I said that I have the best of the three Apollo 11 seats, but I can say with truth and equanimity that I am perfectly satisfied with the one I have. This venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two. I don’t mean to deny a feeling of solitude. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon, I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life.

Collins’s wife, Pat, died last Wednesday in Florida. They had married almost 57 years ago; their anniversary is April 28, Anna’s mother’s birthday. He is certainly alone in a new and unwelcome way, and we extend our sympathy to him and his children.

Today, we’re still thinking about the Moon, but we’re celebrating the anniversary of the beginning of the Apollo 16 mission that sent John Young and Charlie Duke to walk upon the lunar surface. Ken Mattingly was the third member of that crew, assigned to Apollo 16 only after being booted from the Apollo 13 crew when he was exposed to measles by one of Duke’s children.


Anna, Charlie, Doug in 2012

Young had flown on Gemini 3 and Gemini 10 and also on Apollo 10. He would also go on to fly the first space shuttle mission and also STS-9. Mattingly would also go on to fly two space shuttle missions, STS-4 and STS-51-C. For Duke, Apollo 16 was his only spaceflight, and he remains grateful for the sole experience beyond Earth’s atmosphere. This disparate experience probably explains why Duke recounts that his heart was beating twice as fast as Young’s, though, from what we know about Young, no calmer, more collected astronaut ever flew.

In the film In the Shadow of the Moon, Duke recounts the following about his adventure through space:

I was able to look out the window to see this incredible sight of the whole circle of the Earth. Oceans were crystal blue, the land was brown, and the clouds and the snow were pure white. And that jewel of Earth was just hung up in the blackness of space.

When Duke stepped out of the Lunar Module (LM) and onto the Moon, he was 36 years old, the youngest man to walk on another celestial body. He and Young gathered more than 200 pounds of lunar dust and rocks during their more than 20 hours outside the LM. The men returned to the capsule on April 24 and to Earth three days later.

We’ve talked with Charlie Duke twice. As we’ve said before, he’s smart and charming. We’ll end our words at this point and offer you Duke’s own words about his life, career, and hopes for our collective future.

NASA’s Toughest Week January 29, 2014

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Every year, NASA has a Day of Remembrance during this—its toughest—week.




On January 27, 1967, during a ground test of Apollo 1, a fire broke out. All three astronauts inside the spacecraft died.

On January 28, 1986, just 73 seconds into its 25th flight, the space shuttle Challenger broke apart and fell in pieces to the ocean below. All seven astronauts inside the crew compartment died.

On February 1, 2003, during re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere toward the end of its 10th mission, the space shuttle Columbia broke apart and fell in pieces over the southern United States. All seven astronauts perished.

We wrote about this week last year HERE and in 2011 HERE.

We say, in those posts, the most disheartening thing about these accidents is that they were waiting to happen, that, particularly in the cases of the shuttle accidents, specific concerns had been raised about the problems that ended up causing the accidents.

We say there that the most horrific information to emerge about these accidents is that the astronauts’ deaths were not instantaneous.

We also talk about some of the good projects that emerged in the wake of these events, that commemorate the dedication of these astronauts and their belief in science and space exploration as important in this world and beyond it.

In those posts, we posted photographs of the crews and video. And we hope readers will go back to look at those posts this week. Here, we’ll turn to some of the words of the astronauts themselves.

Only days before his death inside the Apollo 1 spacecraft, Gus Grissom finished drafting his book Gemini: A Personal Account of Man’s Venture into Space. There, he wrote:

The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.

Christa McAuliffe, the teacher aboard Challenger that cold day at the beginning of 1986 said of herself:

This ordinary person is contributing to history.

Of students that she hoped to reach during the mission, she said in that same interview:

If they can make that connection [that ordinary people make history], then they’re going to get excited about history, they’re going to get excited about the future, they’re going to get excited about space.

Judy Resnick, who was also on the ill-fated Challenger flight, said the following:

I want to do everything there is to be done.

Thirty-seven pages of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon’s personal diary survived the fall to the ground when Columbia broke apart. On the sixth day of that mission, Ramon wrote:

I turned out to be a man who lives and works in space, just like in the movies.

Kalpana Chawla said in an interview before that doomed mission:

It’s easy for me to be motivated and inspired by seeing somebody who just goes all out to do something.

Last year, on NASA’s Day of Remembrance, President Obama said the following:

Each year, on NASA’s Day of Remembrance, we honor the crew of that Columbia flight, as well as those of Challenger and Apollo 1, and all the members of the NASA family who gave their lives in the pursuit of expanding our Nation’s horizons in space-a cause worthy of their sacrifice and one we must never forget.

And then he said that we’ll “eventually put Americans on Mars.”

Recap of 2013: 5 Posts to Re-Read January 1, 2014

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Information, Science, Space Exploration, Video Interviews, Writing.
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Earthrise, Apollo 8 (see our most recent post)

As we begin 2014, we take a look back at Lofty Ambitions over the last year to see where we have been and where we might be going, to see how our interests emerge and shift, to share a few highlights in hopes that our readers take a few minutes to re-read one of our posts. We continue to focus on aviation and spaceflight, science of the 20th century and beyond, and writing as a couple, but we’ve explored these topics in new ways, and certain posts (or groups of posts) stand out for us.


Our first post of 2013 was “In the Footsteps: Jean Dayton.” Dayton arrived in Los Alamos when she was 19 years old to work on the Manhattan Project, and Doug met her when he was in graduate school at Oregon State University. This post is the most recent in our series about our travels to New Mexico and walking in the footsteps of the nation’s earliest nuclear scientists. Read the whole series HERE.



Adam & Wooten Schmitz

The most heart-wrenching post we wrote this year was “Cancer, Risk, & the Language of Loss.” We lost two college friends to cancer this past year, friends still in their 40s and with children and jobs they enjoyed. This post served as our tribute and an expression of our sorrow and gratefulness. We finally added “Cancer” as a tag and re-tagged other posts so that you can read more HERE.


We started Lofty Ambitions in July 2010 and shortly thereafter decided that the end of the space shuttle program would be a major focus for us. Just over a year later, the last mission concluded, and now all the orbiters are tucked into their museum homes. SpaceX thinks they’re next, and its president Gwynne Shotwell told us why and how. We continued to post other  interviews with astronauts, and all our videos thus far can be viewed on the Lofty Ambitions YouTube channel.

Lise Meitner (U.S. public domain)

Lise Meitner (U.S. public domain)


We usually keep our posts at Lofty Ambitions and at The Huffington Post distinct, but “5 Women Who Should Have Won the Nobel Prize” in October was an exception because we recognized its importance and wide appeal. That was a follow-up to an earlier piece we published at The Huffington Post titled “The Nobel Prize: Where Are All the Women?” in July. You can peruse all our HuffPost articles HERE, and we hope to make regular contributions there in the coming year.


This past year, we explored with greater depth the area of science writing by attending the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop and Launch Pad as well as spending two weeks in August at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony to work on our writing without the usual routine distractions. We are very happy to share that we have been awarded another two-week residency at Dorland soon and plan to think about how to shape our lives in 2014 around our writing goals. Our most recent post about science writing is an overview of the annual anthology The Best American Science and Nature Writingand we encourage our readers to use the information in that post to submit articles they read and enjoy in the coming year to the series editor.

Interview: Gerry Griffin October 23, 2013

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
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Gerry Griffin served as a flight director for NASA during the Apollo years and headed up Johnson Space Center in 1982-1986.

Since then, this lifelong Texan advised the directors of films such as Apollo 13, Contact, and Apollo 18, which Doug, in a  watched for the first time this past (serendipitous) weekend, before we had decided exactly which video interview to post today. With Gravity now captivating audiences, we note what Griffin said in an interview about Apollo 18:

Isn’t it great that the American film industry is making stories about space. Some are realistic, others are not but they now want to make films that cover it all–from soup to nuts–from fact to fiction. I think it is great that our society now has a genre that includes space—one that has become part of the global fabric.

Last fall, we talked with Griffin in person. Here’s part of our conversation.


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